Ethical Issues in Diagnostic Radiography

Updated February 21, 2017

Diagnostic radiography involves radioactive substances used in the treatment and diagnosis of diseases. Diagnosis may require X-rays, which are ionised radiation. Diagnostic radiography also includes ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which employ sound waves and magnets, respectively, to identify problems and abnormalities. It includes the use computerised tomography (CT) scans, too, for which X-ray technology produces computer-enhanced images. Doctors who use diagnostic radiography for their patients encounter several ethical issues.

Informed Consent

Before every procedure, a doctor must receive consent for the procedure from the patient. It is presumed that the consent the doctor receives is informed, that the patient knows what will be done, how it will work and the procedure's risks. Doctors, however, may not agree about the procedures that should be used on patients and may not provide necessary tests. Patients may not understand the time required to complete a test or procedure. Also, patients may avoid inconvenient procedures.

Brain Death

The diagnosis of brain death requires diagnosis using imaging equipment. Due to the limited availability of such machinery and the number of patients who need the procedures, physicians may delay diagnosis of vegetative patients so that the machinery can be used for other patients. The problem is in priority, whether the vegetative patient and his family have priority or the still mobile and aware patient waiting for a diagnosis has priority. Physicians must make a choice because one imaging equipment scan may determine a patient's survival while another may determine that a patient is brain-dead, which may free hospital resources for a third patient to receive treatment.


Cost-conscious patients avoid high-priced radiography services, even when the procedure will assist in diagnosis of a problem. Some physicians are willing to deceive patients to get them to have specific procedures or tests. Also, some physicians may turn down costly procedures because the machinery and diagnostician needed for them are limited. A physician may not want a patient to visit a competing hospital, too, and so she may not offer specific radiography procedures that only it provides.


Physicians have to determine at what age children can give their own consent for a radiography procedure or test. Individuals who are borderline mature and imprisoned minors create special ethical issues. In the case of prisoners, a physician must determine whether or not the state's wishes overrule the patient's rights. Also, diagnostic radiography can be used to diagnose child abuse, abortion and miscarriages, and doctors must determine when it is appropriate to diagnose those issues.

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About the Author

Rebekah Smith is a writer and editor from Montana and the owner of several businesses. Smith has consulted and worked with businesses in the fields of commercial greenhouses, ecommerce, technology and home improvement. She holds a Master of Business Administration and is working on a Ph.D. in business.